In Vaudeville America, there was no difference between actors and singers. There were performers – entertainers. On the stage, these entertainers did not specialize like they do today. Today, they don’t even always use a stage.
The most famous actors and musicians perform via recording, on film or on CD…
However, today, actors and musicians do specialize. Most often a person is either an actor or a musician. But there are exceptions.
In the 1950s and 1960s the two most renowned talents in America were musicians turned actors: Frank Sinatra and Elvis. Although no one was throwing Oscars at Elvis, Frank Sinatra did receive critical acclaim for his acting. He was a supporting actor in the film From Here to Eternity starring Burt Lancaster, who was a big star then, and Sinatra almost stole the show, winning the Academy Award for best supporting actor (1954). Two years later he was nominated for an even bigger Academy Award, best actor, for his role in The Man with the Golden Arm.
Some of the most prominent actors working in the Hollywood film industry today got their start as musicians. Mark Wahlberg and Will Smith are both highly respected actors with a big box office draw. Will Smith has been said to be the most solid box office draw in the market today, the only one justifying a $20 million dollar pay day for a role. As amazing as that twenty million dollar figure is, it becomes more incredible when we remember Will Smith as the rapper he once was. A goofy, stay-in-school-but-have-fun rapper, Will Smith made it on to television to basically play the part of his musical persona on screen.
People loved him. They still do.
At this point in his career, having been nominated twice for the Academy Award for best actor, Will Smith’s musical career is a side-note to his much larger, longer, and extremely successful acting career. So, though he is a musician turned actor, we have to drop the “musician” from his title just as we have to drop “musician” from Mark Walhberg’s musician turned actor title.
They once made music, but now they act.
Another rapper, Ice Cube, has made a successful foray into acting. He is on the cusp of dropping the musician from his title of musician turned actor. If another Friday or Barber Shop comes out then I will stop expecting anymore albums from him.
Other musicians turned actors have managed to be successful and productive on both fronts, continuing to make albums and to act as well. Tom Waits and David Bowie are two prime examples.
Tom Waits’ resume boasts 26 acting roles, some minor but many prominent. He starred in the Jim Jarmush film Down By Law in 1986 and played in the ensemble Short Cuts by Robert Altman (1993).
He retains the musician and the actor in the musician turned actor title as he has continued to put out album after album over the years.
David Bowie, a prodigious musical talent, got into the movies in the early 1970’s and famously played in The Man Who Fell to Earth in 1975. Ten years later he had another star turn in film in Labyrinth.
He has continued to act over the years but will always be known as a theatrical musician, as Ziggy Stardust, and the voice who sang, “This is ground control to Major Tom…”
A couple of other dramatically successful musicians turned actors that deserve mention here are Bjork and Seu Jorge.
Bjork won international renown for her part in Dancer in the Dark where she plays a factory worker losing her eye-sight. Dancer in the Dark is a truly incredible film – intense, emotional, vivid. It was such an intense and emotional experience on set that Bjork said she would never act again after the filming was over, despite the fact that she won best actress at Cannes and won or was nominated for best actress by over ten more institutions around the world.
Seu Jorge came onto the scene in 2002’s Brazilian break-out film City of God. He plays knock-out Ned. He then appeared in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and released an accompanying album of the David Bowie covers that his character plays throughout the film. An earlier album (1999) was Brazil’s album of the year: “Samba Esporte Fino”.
There are many more crossover figures who made the leap to become musicians turned actors. And there will be many more musicians turned actors to come. Will Lady Gaga be next? She is certainly famous enough. Beyonce did it. 50 Cent did it. Even Mariah Carey did it. So, maybe the Lady will be the next musician turned actor, though from what I hear, she already does quiet a bit of acting when she performs.
Below find some more information on the acting careers of the musicians turned actors who maintained their musical careers.
Tom Waits has put together an impressive acting career. He has had so much success as an actor, in fact, that his acting career would be a successful career of its own. If he weren’t such a famous musician, he would be known as a Hollywood actor, having performed in over two dozen films.
26 acting parts from a 1978 role in Paradise Alley to a recent star turn in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. Tom Waits has acted in films by renowned directors Jim Jarmush (Down By Law; Coffee and Cigarettes) and Robert Altman (Short Cuts).
He shares as Golden Globe award with the rest of the cast of Short Cuts for best ensemble cast from 1993.
David Bowie: 29 acting roles beginning in 1967 in a film called The Image.
His most recent acting work is August 2008.
HIs most famous acting work includes: Labyrinth & The Man Who Fell To Earth & The Last Temptation of Christ (Pontius Pilate).
Bjork has had 5 acting roles. Bjork won the Cannes award for best actress for her lead role in the tense drama Dancer in the Dark and she was nominated for the Golden Globes award for best actress for the same part.
Her first role was The Juniper Tree released in Iceland in 1990.
Bjork’s most recent role is Anna and the Moods (Iceland 2007).
Her most famous role was Dancer in the Dark (2000)(Lars Von Trier).
Seu Jorge has had 8 acting roles.
His first role was City of God (2002).
His most recent film was Carmo 2008
His most famous roles include: City of God & The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.